The word “gospel” comes from the Bible – but it also describes Christian music which has been influenced by jazz and the blues. Gospel, says Mahalia Jackson, is a joyful cry of praise to the Lord. Her deep soulfulness, the passion of her Christian conviction and a belief in the power of her music led to her breakthrough in the USA, where she appeared at Carnegie Hall, and took her to Europe where she performed in the Vatican. It did not, however, though many had wished it so, lead her to jazz, blues and rock ’n’ roll. The public’s wide acceptance of her music proved her right in pursuing her spiritual path unerringly, although some critical listeners claimed to have spotted commercial undertones in her inimitable, highly expressive singing.
This live recording from the Newport Festival certainly cannot be accused of having been made for commercial reasons because it by no means reflects the common clichés of gospel singing. Fortunately there is no rhythm group, no chorus and no clapping of hands, and what is more: one misses nothing. Mahalia’s soft, raucous voice retains its volume and warmth in moments of drama as well as in whispered passages. In this performance she is accompanied only by a piano or occasionally a Hammond organ with a cloud of chords. This pure, authentic musical experience lets one forget all about style and trends and leads to the belief that gospel is a credo.